Epilogue

Landon Rogers, 19, poses for a photo after his graduation from Eastside High School last spring. Rodgers was a UF exploratory freshman in the college of liberal arts and sciences and collapsed during UF’s Air Force ROTC training on Nov. 19, 2015.

Landon Rogers kept a journal.

It was left on the desk in his UF dorm, a book of reflection and religion.

The faith and lessons in the book provided motivation and encouragement as he pushed himself to succeed as a high school quarterback, lacrosse captain, straight-A student and Air Force ROTC cadet.

At about 6:40 a.m. Thursday, Landon was pushing himself to surpass his best time during ROTC physical training when he collapsed on the Percy Beard Track, just before finishing five out of six laps.

The 18-year-old UF exploratory freshman was pronounced dead roughly 45 minutes after being transported to UF Health Shands Hospital.

"I’m reminded today that some things we do may not have significance until much later," Landon wrote in a July 10 journal entry. "Some encouraging words may not be helpful until years later."

Those words in his journal were now significant to his family and his Gainesville loved ones as they mourned his loss and honored his memory.

• • •

When people talk about Landon, they remember the little things.

They talk about the times he stayed late to pack up the Eastside High School band room, or when he drove five hours to watch a friend’s swim competition.

Most of all, when people talk about Landon Howard Rogers, the son of Howard and Cheryl Rogers, they talk about his smile.

As exams started to pile on during their junior year, Landon asked Lucas Zhou to help him give water to the homeless.

Zhou, now a UF freshman, said he was busy with exams, but Landon was even busier.

They filled a cooler with water bottles and walked downtown, where Landon would recite a prayer for anyone who would listen.

"The signature smile on his face radiated love just as it did for all of us when we knew him," Zhou said during a funeral service on Monday.

As a student at Lincoln Middle School and Eastside High School, Landon was a dynamic presence athletically and academically.

Eastside sophomore Spencer Warren said Landon balanced football, lacrosse and band, along with co-founding and running Pursuit, a Bible study group.

He recalled Landon wearing his football uniform and playing tuba during a halftime show before continuing the game.

"I can’t remember one time that he wasn’t smiling," Warren said. "If he noticed you weren’t feeling your best, then he would come up to you and talk to you about it."

Eastside recognized Landon’s efforts with a Ram of the Year Award, which meant he embodied achievement in leadership, academics, athletics and the arts, said Adele Turnage, the assistant principal of curriculum.

"He really believed that it was imperative to treat others with kindness, and that just never wavered," Turnage said.

When she stood on hall duty, Landon never failed to stop and ask about her family.

"If I had a daughter who was young enough, I’d want her to marry Landon," she said.

• • •

Before the ceremony honoring Landon’s memory, cars filled the parking lot and parked half a mile down the road from The Family Church.

About 800 people walked through the church lobby past pieces of Landon’s life.

A rocking chair held Air Force jackets and a Bible, opened to 2 Corinthians 4:9. His acoustic guitar and lacrosse gear sat nearby.

Banners signed by Eastside students hung on each side of the room. A white banner, blocked slightly by a tuba and photo collage, said "We love you, Landon."

After the choir played some of Landon’s favorite worship songs, his father took the stage to share what he described as a glimpse into his son’s life.

He mentioned Landon’s love for burritos, playing guitar and, above all, worshipping God.

"How can we have life without Landon?" Rogers asked.

He said he found his answer in the journal Landon kept and the stories shared by friends and family.

Landon’s sister Hannah spoke for a short time, fighting through both tears and laughter as she spoke in his memory, with her sister Lauren by her side.

She said she can still see her brother waiting with a glass of water, adorned with a lemon slice and straw, as she finished a long run.

"He would just hand it to me and say, ‘Good job,’" Hannah said. "It’s simple, and there’s nothing really special about that moment, but it means a lot to me."

Alexander Hayes, one of Landon’s fellow ROTC cadets, told the crowd it didn’t take long for Landon to affect his peers in Detachment 150.

He said Landon once sat in the back of a Jeep, waving his arms in the air and smiling as the wind passed across his face. He also joined his friends at Bento Cafe and paid for their meals with a pocket full of gift cards.

"We’ve all been impacted by him, even though we’ve only known him for a few months, and I can’t wait to see him again in heaven one day," Hayes said.

• • •

In his final journal entry, Landon wrote about heaven.

"Root your joy in what cannot be moved," he wrote. "Set your mind on things above and obsess with heaven."

At the funeral, Landon’s father said he found comfort knowing his son was in heaven, and members of the crowd nodded in agreement.

His legacy, however, will remain in Gainesville.

Days before the funeral, Eastside senior Thomas Tang, 17, said he heard about Landon’s death and promised to improve himself in honor of his friend’s memory.

"In his life, and even in his death, I feel like he’s pushing me to be a better person," Tang said.

During the funeral, Landon’s former middle school basketball coach, Leroy Cotton, said he named his youngest son after Landon.

"This guy epitomized everything we should be, and if we had more people in the world like him, the world would be a much better place than it is," Cotton said.

And Zhou, after reflecting on the day he and Rogers gave water to the homeless, offered the crowd a way to keep Rogers’ legacy alive.

"Landon embodied this mode of life and inspired others to do the same," Zhou said. "We can best honor him by picking up his torch and living the way he lived, and loving the way he loved."

Contact Giuseppe Sabella at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Gsabella